Wyoming just kept getting worse. Everything I was struggling with, feelings of isolation, confinement, helplessness, all got worse on my ride to Rawlins. None of the previous 11 states that I had passed through, except perhaps Pennsylvania, were quite as disheartening as this one.
Encouraged by some early tailwinds, I rushed North out of Riverside towards Rawlins. About 30 miles into my ride I hit a wall. The bike map instructed me to go West in I-80 for about 11 miles. Whenever I am directed onto an interstate a big red flag goes off in my head. Interstates are among the least safe places for a cyclist to ride.
To make things worse, the wind was now howling out of the West, precisely the direction that I was heading. This meant that I had a slow, grueling 11 miles to look forward to. Plus, just to unnerve me a touch more, there was construction on this four-lane highway, consolidating all of the traffic onto just two lanes. Especially after my hellish ride into Denver, I was sternly opposed to sheepishly following these directions against my best instincts.
I tried to be methodical in my approach to bypassing the bottleneck. I first asked my dear friend and confidant, Google Maps. It offered an alternate route which would bypass the interstate at the expense of doubling my mileage. That was find with me. I set out on the path that Google had arranged. Within a mile my heart sank. Google Maps had again routed me on a route that was, quite frankly, garbage. My bike would have disassembled if I followed this treacherous, pot-hole ridden path. Before things got worse, I returned to the junction with I-80. There were no alternate routes. The feelings of confinement intensified.
My next idea was to try hitchhiking. I had fair success hitchhiking while in Kansas, so why not Wyoming? Over the next hour-and-a-half I stuck my thumb out beneath the blazing midday Wyoming sun. I kid you not when I tell you that not a single person even slowed down. No one was going to pick me up. The feelings of solitude intensified.
I had run out of options. The two-and-a-half hours I spent trying to avoid riding around I-80 were in vain. Quite frankly, if I had just rode in the first place I would already be there by now. "Screw it," I thought, "I'm going for it."
The ride along I-80 really sucked. First, and as expected, the winds were terrible. I rode head first into moderate 12-18 mph winds. Exhausting, frustrating, debilitating, depleting; any or all of those adjectives would suffice to describe the experience. To make matters worse, I came across the following sign which put me on super-high alert.
Then there was the constant truck traffic. At 70 mph, a varied procession of trucks blew by me. Every single one unnerved me to the core. I felt like an old rope. mechanically being twisted tighter and tighter and tighter, on the verge of snapping. On two different occasions vehicles came so close to me that I was forced to abandon the roadway. This portion of the ride really, really, sucked.
The only "town" along the way was Sinclair, home to the Sinclair oil company. The "town" was nothing more than an enormous refinery. It was miserable. I really felt bad for the 200 residents.
I ultimately arrived safely at my destination; Rawlins, Wyoming. Talk about a place with "no there there." I had no clue what I was doing in Rawlins. To make matters worse, I had no destination. After making some phone calls from the McDonald's, I found a site at the local KOA.
I elected to take one rest day in Rawlins. I was feeling a bit backlogged and needed to do some planning. Rawlins was kind of a perfect place for errands because there was not a whole lot going on. I was able to get much done here given the complete absence of distractions in this windy town.
I quietly went through the motions of getting my life together. Post office. Check. Library. Check. Grocery store. Well, wait, something unexpected happened at the grocery store. At this point in my ride I couldn't really care less about what I looked like, so I sported my helmet as I perused about the aisles of the City Market. At the checkout I stared blindly into the produce section while the woman ahead of me was attended to. The cashier told her the total dollar amount of the groceries. She then spoke up to the cashier, "Umm, and I'd like to pay for his groceries as well." She turned to me to confirm, "If that's okay with you."
After having not smiled for about two days, my face was overcome by the widest cheek-to-cheek smile. I thanked her profusely. After having felt so on my own in Rawlins, I was comforted to know that someone was looking out for me. Who knew that Tammy from North Dakota would be able to so brighten my day.
So it was Thursday night in Rawlins, Wyoming. I, along with every other person in this town, had a choice to make: do absolutely nothing or go to the rodeo at the Carbon County Fair. Perhaps still coasting off of the good vibes Tammy sent me, I elected to check out the rodeo.
Okay, so here is my advice for anyone who is ever feeling down in the dumps: Go to the rodeo. The rodeo was incredible. I can't purvey to you how exciting it was to watch little girls, grown men and everyone in between get completely wrecked trying to ride sheep, ponies, broncos and bulls. I was lost in complete amazement during my first rodeo.
Despite the fact that the bull riding is technically the main event, the people's choice was the "mutton buster." The way this one works is parents sign up their 4 to 7 year old kids to ride sheep. The children, outfitted with a hockey helmet, mount these sheep behind the mini-gates. Once the gate opens, the insecure, mindless little sheep has no idea what to do, so it charges out of the gate searching for the other sheep (which are hanging out in the ring). The poor little child atop the gate holds on for his or her dear life, usually with a look of immense fear in their eyes. Some kids hardly make it out of the gate, whereas others have such a grip on the sheep that they only fall off once the idiotic sheep rams into the fence on the other side of the ring. I'm serious. Please. Go to the rodeo.
At the rodeo I befriended a kind couple from Minnesota who had relocated to Rawlins. Stan and Connie were excited to talk me through my first rodeo. In all honesty I was clueless about what was going on. After the rode they invited me to spend the night in their home. Since I was already installed at the campground, I (foolishly) declined this initial offer. I did, however, accept their offer to drive me back to the campsite. Before I got out of the car, Stan reminded me that I was on a once-in-a-lifetime journey and that I should cherish it as such. Man, I really needed to hear that. I had become too absorbed in the difficulties of Wyoming and was forgetting about the big picture. I thanked Stan, then headed to my tent.
That night I got about four hours of sleep in a wet sleeping bag. When I awoke in the morning I went to the restroom. There I looked at myself in the mirror. I didn't recognize the ghastly figure looking back at me. My eyes were lined with the puffiest, darkest bags that I'd ever sported in my life. I looked like Jaba the Hutt.
Recognizing that I screwed up, I crawled back to Stan and Connie's home to beg them to take me back. These friendly people were thrilled to receive me as a guest. I spent a relaxing day in their lovely home learning all about their life in Wyoming and absolutely stuffing my face. Choosing to accept the generous offer of these people was one of the best decisions I had made. Not only did I replenish my depleted body, but this couple put a huge smile on my face. They, along with Tammy from the grocery, were reassurance that no matter how droll the scenery, there is always someone out there who cares. Even in a state as lonely as Wyoming, I was reminded that I was not alone.